By Brady Huggett

Biogen Inc. and ICOS Corp. entered a collaboration to develop and commercialize oral therapeutics to treat inflammatory conditions.

ICOS, of Bothell, Wash., and Biogen, of Cambridge, Mass., will concentrate on orally active, small-molecule leukocyte function-associated antigen-1 (LFA-1) antagonists to combat such diseases as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, transplant rejection and psoriasis. The deal provides Biogen the chance to participate in the development of ICOS¿ product, IC747, which is now in a Phase I trial.

Both companies will see the financial rewards of an approved product, splitting profits equally, and they will co-promote any products, as well as share the costs of development. However, ICOS will receive an $8 million up-front payment and will have a shot at success-based milestones. Also, ICOS will receive a loan from Biogen to cover its development costs, although the payback requirements may be dissolved if ICOS hits certain milestones.

¿This is a very strategic move given the immediate clinical indication is psoriasis,¿ said Michael Gallatin, vice president and scientific director at ICOS. ¿Biogen has so much background in the clinic in that indication and, in fact, in inflammation in general.¿

Further details on how the deal is structured are ¿between Biogen and ICOS,¿ said Kathleen O¿Donnell, associate director, public affairs at Biogen, but she noted it ¿fits appropriately into our business paradigm.¿

O¿Donnell said the key is LFA-1.

¿It is a cell adhesion molecule that promotes T-cell migration and activation that can lead to [inflammatory conditions],¿ she said. ¿What it does, in the molecules we¿ve seen from ICOS, it has the ability to inhibit T-cell migration and activation by blocking LFA-1.¿

Along with IC747, Biogen gets all the fringe science and kin that go with it, said Gallatin.

¿Besides the intellectual property, in any program of this magnitude, you have not only the lead compound but the whole portfolio of compounds that are relatives,¿ he said. ¿There is a package of science that deals with the lead compound¿s mechanisms of action and analogues of the lead.¿

But Biogen is contributing, as well.

¿Both companies put together the elements of their technology know-how in order to have a successful development of LFA-1 antagonists,¿ he said.

ICOS has its hands full with Phase III products. In the past three months, it has started a pivotal Phase III sepsis trial with Pafase, partnered with the Japanese company, Suntory Ltd.; began a pivotal Phase II/III trial of an oral endothelin A receptor agonist, sitaxsentan, in patients with pulmonary hypertension; and submitted a new drug application for Cialis, for erectile dysfunction. Sitaxsentan is partnered with Texas Biotechnology Corp., of Houston, and Cialis is governed by Lilly ICOS LLC, a joint venture between ICOS and Eli Lilly and Co., of Indianapolis. (See BioWorld Today, April 30, 2001; May 31, 2001; and June 29, 2001.)

Biogen also has been busy. A week ago it extended its screening collaboration with NeoGenesis; it is planning to file a new drug application later this year for its psoriasis drug, Amevive; and it has been tangled in the head-to-head controversial comparison of its drug, Avonex, with Geneva, Switzerland-based Serono SA¿s Rebif, both for relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis. (See BioWorld Today, June 13, 2001; June 25, 2001; and July 10, 2001.)

Of the ICOS-Biogen agreement, Gallatin said there are ¿a number of ties between senior scientists at both companies,¿ and that helped finalize the deal.

Biogen¿s stock (NASDAQ:BGEN) dropped $1.96 Monday, closing at $49.45 on a day that saw many biotechnology companies lose ground on Wall Street. ICOS (NASDAQ: ICOS) lost $3.16 to close at $58.90.

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